“What is it? What do you want from me?” Savannah cried up at the angry, flashing sky. The clouds overhead were thick and grey, but with a patina of green that hinted, ominously, that this might not be just an average winter storm.
“Didn’t I do everything I could…?”
She told herself that she had done everything she possibly could have for Shane. They were close friends, best friends, though they’d never been anything more than that. She told herself that she wasn’t responsible for him; it was narcissistic to think that if she’d just answered the phone he wouldn’t have died. He made his own choices. She couldn’t control him.
He’d gotten himself into trouble that he couldn’t get himself out of. Trouble that, until he passed, no one even knew about - not even Savannah. No one blamed her for what happened; no one other than Savannah herself, of course.
When paired with grief, blame was an especially insidious companion. If it didn’t lead people to misdirect their anger outward, it turned inward - creeping into the subconscious, subtly asserting its influence in ways that time could do little to assuage. Months had passed, but regardless of what she told herself, or how often she repeated these mantras, she still found it hard to drive off. She wasn’t sure these feelings would ever really leave her.
Strangely, part of her still didn’t believe Shane was gone. Part of her thought he’d knock on her door unannounced any day now, and whisk her away on an unexpected adventure. It was something he was fond of doing, his way of breaking her out of her long, obsessive bouts of painting. This feeling, which sometimes swirled in the back of her mind whenever the doorbell rang, probably contributed to her current predicament. It was impossible; she wasn’t superstitious. But maybe… just maybe Shane really was haunting her.
Savannah hadn’t slept in what felt like weeks; the bags under her eyes having turned to greenish purple bruises from how much she’d been rubbing them. Her mind felt sluggish and fragile; weeks of building paranoia did that to a person, she supposed. Savannah had tried, and failed, to prevent the ‘ghost’ from getting to her. She’d even disconnected the damn doorbell, so how did it keep on ringing? Was it all in her mind?
“There’s no such thing as ghosts!” Savannah shouted at the sky. As much as she protested, and had been protesting internally for months, it seemed that the spirit haunting her did not agree with her assessment. Not only were there ghosts, but she had failed them - had failed him. Betrayed him, even. This was her punishment.
As if on cue, the sky above her broke. Fat, cold rain drops started splashing down thin at first, then with an abundance that left the quaking, twenty one year old soaked in a matter of minutes. She didn’t care. In fact, Savannah knew that she deserved this - and more.
She stood outside in the small, low fenced yard of her brick apartment building, and shivered as the cold seeped through her clothes, into her skin, and down to her bones. Was this how he felt? Deeply cold and unable to move forward? Was Shane punishing everyone who had failed him? Surely she wasn’t the only one. Was he punishing Cory as well? Was it her fault if he was?
As the clouds lit up, and thunder boomed above her, she wished the storm would strike her down too. Maybe that’s what he wanted. Did Shane want her to join him in the afterlife?
When the storm declined to use lightning as a means to shuffle her off this mortal coil, Savannah turned and stalked back into her apartment, slamming the door behind her. As she did so, a boom of thunder shook the apartment, followed by a muffled explosion in the distance, and the creak of the door to the utility space popping open. Then, the power went out.
It was late evening, and there was very little light coming in from the windows, and since she was used to the light pouring bright and welcoming into the space during the day, the flat still felt eerily dark. Savannah paused, dripping onto the blue, striped, oval rag rug, her heavy, ragged breathing the only sound that interrupted the quiet space.
“What the hell was that?” she spoke aloud, trying to dispel the silence.
Somehow, speaking out loud to herself only made the loneliness of the moment worse. Her voice echoed in the space, which had painted cement floors and twelve foot ceilings - allowing plenty of hollow space for sound to bounce around. When the sound died out she was once again alone, in the growing dark, with only the sound of her ragged panting.
The light was actually why she picked this apartment; the high ceilings and tall windows made not only for a nice living space, but a good studio to paint in. Even though her degree was in art history, she considered herself an artist. She just happened to think she could make a better living in restoration than as a painter. She wasn’t giving up on painting; she would still paint - and in order to paint you had to have good light. She always believed natural light was best, which made this apartment a choice spot - even if it wasn’t exactly in the good part of town.
Not that her studies or career path mattered at present. In the shadowy half-light, Savannah sighed, and started unbuttoning her shirt. It was silly to just stand there, cold and wet. As she worked to remove her clothes, she heard the garbled sound of the doorbell, and grit her teeth, trying to ignore it. She’d disconnected the doorbell; there was no doorbell. There was no ghost. She was just experiencing grief. She’d ignored her grief for so long that now she was hallucinating. That must be what was happening.
The doorbell gave off another garbled, screeching ‘ding!’ and as it did, she ripped off the button she’d been trying to undo.
“Argh!” Savannah groaned, throwing her hands up in frustration. Her heart was thundering in her chest now, which was growing tight with fear. If she hadn’t already been freezing and wet, she probably would have broken out into a cold sweat.
She clutched a hand to her chest, taking in a deep breath and holding it; she needed to calm down. What she really needed, though, was an appointment with a therapist. She promised herself that as soon as she stopped hearing her pulse rushing through her ears, and the internet was back on, she’d find one.
Savannah jumped and made an embarrassing yelping sound when the bell rang a third time, clearer and more insistent then before, and she realized that the sound was coming from somewhere behind her and to the left; from the utility space that had popped open when she slammed the front door.
Slowly, Savannah approached the dusty, cob-webbed closet that she’d only ever looked in to change the air conditioning filter. In a shaking hand, Savannah held up her phone, which was damp and running low on battery, and activated its flashlight function.